Las Vegas, N.M – Neyli Castillo said New Mexico Highlands University has always been a safe haven and a place of opportunity for her.
The 22-year-old undocumented “dreamer” earned both her MBA and bachelor’s degree in business from Highlands. She works as an assistant to the university’s finance director.
“I came to Highlands in 2012, the same year that President Obama issued an executive order called DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – that protected me from deportation and made it possible for me to work legally,” Castillo said. “Now I’m very concerned that President Trump will not support ‘dreamers’ like me.”
On Sept. 5, 2017, President Trump announced he will repeal DACA, which protects approximately 800,000 individuals who entered the U.S. illegally as children with their parents. The protection also applies to those who overstayed their visas, Castillo’s case.
Castillo said she is proud to call America home. She has lived in the U.S. since her parents immigrated from Mexico City to California when she was eight.
“My first day at Highlands was a little scary because I’d never been out of California, but I was welcomed, respected and helped at this university from the very beginning,” Castillo said. “The economics courses I took from Dr. Bill Taylor were so interesting that I chose finance as my business concentration.
“Dr. Taylor is the best mentor and adviser I had at Highlands, guiding and encouraging me to be successful,” Castillo said.
Castillo said the supportive learning environment at Highlands helped her complete her undergraduate and graduate business degrees quickly in 2014 and 2016.
“There’s so much opportunity at Highlands. I also gained valuable work experience from working at Donnelly Library to teaching in the School of Business. I love this university, and am very thankful to everyone who has helped me,” Castillo said.
Taylor, who is dean of the School of Business, Media and Technology, said Castillo has keen intellect, resiliency and grit.
“Neyli is one of the most remarkable and exceptional students I’ve ever had,” Taylor said. “She is so driven to succeed for herself and her family. Neyli completed her bachelor’s degree at 19 and her MBA at 21.”
Taylor said based upon Castillo’s excellent performance as his graduate assistant, when she completed her MBA, the university hired her to teach introductory economics and finance courses during the 2016 – 2017 academic year.
“Neyli is an outstanding communicator, and students were very positive about her courses,” Taylor said.
Since July 2017, Castillo has worked in the Highlands Business Office as the assistant to Paula Escudero, the university’s finance director and comptroller.
“I love this exciting position because I use my business knowledge every day to help students,” Castillo said.
“Neyli is passionate about education, and oversees our Student Help Center,” Escudero said. “She is invaluable on my staff because she understands student’s needs from the inside out as both a student and instructor.”
Escuder said Castillo is a tenacious problem solver who applies her business acumen and compassion to help students resolve their financial concerns and other issues.
Looking ahead, Castillo said she hasn’t let uncertainty about DACA stop her from pursuing her dreams.
“My ultimate goal is to earn my doctorate degree in economics, and I’m not letting fear stop me,” Castillo said. “I’m applying to Ph.D. programs now. I enjoyed teaching and want to teach again at the college level, but as a full professor who also conducts research.”
Highlands President Sam Minner has spoken out in strong support of the university’s undocumented students like Castillo.
“I stand with many other university presidents around the country who believe DACA is an important protection for members of our campus and society who were brought to the United States as children,” Minner said. “It is my strong hope Congress will see the value and humanity of this program, and continue to afford these protections.”
Minner wrote an Aug. 31, 2017, letter to President Trump imploring him to not repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.